Establishing a Spiritual Workout (Unchained 7) by Rick Shurtz

At Gateway Church in Austin, we continued a series designed to go beyond just a new year’s resolution. This is an opportunity to get past what has kept you from becoming the person you were created to be.

You can watch the entire series at

Rick Shurtz shared the following insights:

“A friend of mine here at Gateway, Michael Warden, uses a phrase that caught my attention years ago and has stuck with me: Irreversible Life Change.

I love that because it captures the essence of being unchained. It also puts it’s finger on the exposed nerve of what frustrates us. We want irreversible life change. We want to be unchained, yet it’s illusive. Today is February 16th, and most New Year’s resolutions have run their course by now. Maybe we made progress, but can we TRULY experience irreversible life change?

We’re on a quest to become UNCHAINED. Early on we were asked to consider, “What do I want to be unchained from?”

Maybe there is a substance:

  • Binge eating
  • Binge drinking

Or maybe it is more of a condition:

  • People-pleasing
  • Co-dependency
  • Insecurity
  • Worry

Maybe it’s an activity:

  • Non-stop texting
  • Late night facebooking

Something’s got us chained, so how can we be unchained from that something?

Consider for a moment a tree that bears fruit. We look at our tree, and we see undesirable fruit. We don’t want that fruit. We want different fruit.

In this series, we’re essentially asking 2 questions:

  • How do we stop growing bad fruit?
  • How do we start growing good fruit?

If that tree, bearing bad fruit, really wants to bear good fruit, it’s going to have to do much more than make a declaration. Stating: NO MORE BAD FRUIT, that might sound noble, but if that tree doesn’t get after the root of the problem, then it’s never going to produce anything but bad fruit, no matter how many resolutions, declarations, or plans it might make. I might as well get out a rag and polish the fruit.

If I’m going to experience irreversible life change and if I’m going to no longer bear unhealthy fruit then when we look at this tree, we all know, we don’t go after the fruit itself.

We go deeper than that. We go much more holistic than that.

Jesus put it like this:

“…every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Matthew 7:17-18”

This is not complicated, he tells us. Bad trees bear bad fruit. Good trees bear good fruit. You can’t change the fruit without changing the tree.

In another place Jesus said:

“Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad… Matthew 12:33

If I want this tree to bear good fruit, I need to focus, not on the fruit, but on the tree.

Throughout this series, we’ve been plodding our way through the 12 steps which are a way to focus on the tree rather than the fruit.

I can’t expect irreversible life change, I can’t expect new fruit, if I’m not willing to address what’s truly going on.

  • We don’t binge eat because we’re hungry.
  • We don’t binge drink because we’re thirsty.
  • We don’t overwork because we need a job.
  • We don’t people-please because we just really like people.

We do these things, for deeper reasons.

Today our mission is to get after steps 10 and 11, but to do that, I want us to take a step back today. I want us to get good look at where we’ve come. We’re going to look at steps 10 and 11, but we’re going to do that by taking running start them.

First, Steps 1-3:

  • Step One: Admitted we were powerless over our sin.
  • Step Two: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  • Step Three: Made a decision to turn our lives and will over to the care of God.

These three steps, they clearly work together:

  • I’m powerless.
  • I believe in a power greater than me who could restore me to sanity.
  • I made a decision to turn my life and will over to the care of that power, over to the care of God.

That tree, if it could talk, would quickly point to factors far outside of it’s control. “If I’m going to be a healthy tree,” it might say, “I need sunlight. I need rain. I need fertile soil, and I have absolutely no control over these things. And yet I cannot be healthy without them.”

So what if we discovered, that our lives, our wellbeing, is not supposed to be in our hands. We’re supposed to live dependently upon the God who brings the sun, the clouds, and the rain.

Consider what may be Scripture’s most famous line says as much:

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.” Psalm 23:1

That’s God’s way of saying, embrace steps 1, 2, and 3, let me be your shepherd, you weren’t made to be more than you can be. You can’t control the weather, the sun, the rain, but I can, and I do, entrust me with it all.

Isaiah 41:10, I memorized it years ago and it has been a friend to me ever since:

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10

Nothing is gained by being anxious for these things. That anxiety will only drive us to unhealthy behaviors to pacify and anesthetize it. We need to be free from it and unchained from it. We need to recognize we were not created to control things we simply are powerless to control.

Which brings us to steps 4-7:

  • Step Four: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  • Step Five: Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  • Step Six: Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  • Step Seven: Humbly asked him to remove our shortcomings.

I want us to think about it like this: Our tree is rooted in soil, and this soil has certain realities. Try as you may, and try as I may, our life grows out of our personal history. Our life is rooted in my experiences, the good, the bad and the ugly.

Question for you: What happens to this tree, if in this soil, we find jagged edged toxicity and poison? If there is toxicity and poison in soil in which this tree is rooted in, then the fruit on this tree, it’s going to be feeding off that toxicity and poison. How can this fruit EVER be healthy if there’s not something done about the soil in which it grows?

Your wounds, my wounds, they make the soil in which our lives grow. This soil, it becomes us. It becomes the fruit of our lives. Taking a moral inventory is not just about writing out things I’ve done wrong in my life. It begins with wounds—the soil—and then moves to how those wounds have influenced our actions.

If all I do is go up to this one piece of fruit, and I tell that fruit to stop being there, stop behaving that way: I tell myself to stop eating that way, stop drinking that way, stop looking at women that way, stop over-working, but if in my talking to that fruit, I don’t look down beneath the soil, I’m going to discover a new degree of powerlessness.

Jesus put it like this: “… everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” John 8:34

My fruit, among other things, it’s enslaved to my soil. Breaking free of that sin is about as easy as changing that fruit without addressing that soil. It just doesn’t work.

Full confession, true confession, is not just when we say, “Please forgive me for my sin” but it’s when we look honestly at that sin and look honestly at what drives us, what compels us, what soil our lives are planted within.

…confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. James 5:16

Isn’t it fascinating how confession, healing, and prayer are all linked to each other? We don’t just need to admit our wrongs, that’s a significant part of it, but there’s more to it than that. We need healing. This healing will be supernatural. It comes when we bring our wounds out in the open with a trusted friend, and that friend prays over us.

Let that wound fester and go unaddressed, and we may have pruned the bad fruit for a moment, but it will grow back in short order.

Steps 8 and 9:

  • Step Eight: Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  • Step Nine: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

These may be the hardest of all steps because they involve other people. Consider for a moment their importance and for the sake of our discussion today, consider not just how they’re important to the people we make amends with, consider how they are important to our own wellbeing.

What happens in our soil when we instinctively know we’ve hurt another person? It could be a small or big hurt. What gets planted down there is we experience guilt and shame. In extreme circumstances, maybe we feel condemned.

What happens when we have these realities festering in our soil? What kind of fruit do they bear? Guilt, shame, condemnation, these perspectives, they are a kind of pain within themselves.

What do we do with pain? Just as before: we do whatever we can to get rid of that pain. We engage in destructive habits, that feel good for a moment, they temporarily get rid of the pain, but ironically, produce more guilt and more shame.

It’s like attempting to put a fire out by smothering it with gasoline.

What if instead of dousing the pain of guilt and shame with unhealthy practices, what if we fully processed, in a healthy way, the ways in which we have hurt others?

This takes tremendous courage, and tremendous humility, but when we process it with God and when we process it with those we’ve hurt, it produces a kind of healing that is transformational. That soil, it becomes clear and healthy once again.

  • Now I eat, not because I’m pacifying pain in my life, but because I’m hungry. That’s a good reason to eat.
  • Now I work, not because I’m trying to justify my existence, but because it’s good and healthy and helpful to have good honest work.

I want you to see the power and the simplicity of these steps. If I could summarize them, they’d simply be this:

  • Make peace with God
  • Make peace with yourself
  • Make peace with others

The specific guidance for each step is critical. They keep us from cheating, but that’s essentially what’s going on here.

  • We make peace with God, and let him be our source of strength.
  • We make peace with ourselves, by letting God’s grace wash over us.
  • We make peace with others, by humbly acknowledging how we may have hurt others.

If we were committed to doing these things, as so many of you are, it makes for something indescribably powerful.

If I go to this soil, and I replace…

  • Fear
  • Anxiety
  • Shame


  • Peace
  • Joy
  • Contentment

The fruit on my tree will change.

And I would almost say irreversibly, but I still need steps 10 and 11.

Steps 10 and 11:

  • Step Ten: Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  • Step Eleven: Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

You might summarize steps 10 and 11 like this:

This process we’ve gone through, turning control over to God, getting the soil fertile and life-giving, it’s imperative that we do the following:

  • We keep doing these steps on a daily basis.
  • We don’t let new wounds fester in our soil.
  • We don’t let the soil get cluttered again with toxicity and poison.
  • We address it daily, keeping our soil healthy and fertile and producing good and healthy fruit.

Step 10 tells us to stay on top of our wounds and our sin. Don’t let them fester. Keep taking that moral inventory. Live a life where you stay in the process and you keep processing.

Listen to this time-tested ancient wisdom from Scripture:

When I kept silent,my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” 
And you forgave the guilt of my sin. Psalm 32:3-5

We need freedom and grace from our own offenses. I find it interesting how we’re increasingly seeing sin dealt with in our day. Rather than going toe to toe with it, admitting our wrongs, and experiencing God’s grace, increasingly, we’re simply saying, “That’s not really sin. There’s nothing wrong with that.” We’re taking as much as we can out of the sin category, and let me say, I get it. It makes sense to me. Why should we continually feel bad about ourselves? We think: “let’s just declare those things okay, and deal with the guilt that way.”

The challenge to this is that it doesn’t work.

It doesn’t work, because instinctively we know better. It doesn’t matter what is acceptable in our day. In our hearts, we know the difference between right and wrong, and when we put layer upon layer upon layer of pushing God aside and doing things our own way, it takes it’s toll on us.

There is power and exhilaration and healing in going toe to toe with our own personal rebellion, addressing whatever wounds are related to that rebellion, and then processing this with God and with anyone else it needs to be processed with. We do this, and not only will it effect us spiritually, but it will effect us physically, emotionally, and relationally.

Then consider step 11, which essentially tells us to keep practicing steps 1 through 3.

Keep connected to the God whom we have turned control of our lives over to. Keep seeking him. Keep entrusting yourself to him. Keep communicating with him.

Every day, I have to get up, re-engage God, seek him by prayer and through scripture, and as I do this, my cup fills back up again. I don’t do so-well when I go through my day and this cup gets emptier and emptier, especially when it starts on near empty.

How do we actually implement this…

First, get a plan for how you will engage God in prayer.

If you are going to have a rich, vibrant, and authentic prayer life, you will be GREATLY served by indentifying when and how you will focus directly on God and striving to prayer throughout the day (see the 60/60 Experiment). Healthy relationships need focused time. For me, my prayer time involves journaling which help me entrust to God what’s on my heart and mind and let Him carry the burden that day.

Second, get a plan for how you will engage God through Scripture.

I don’t think I could emphasize this enough. If you are looking for daily alignment, daily getting your cup filled, and getting your thoughts aligned with God’s thoughts, there is no substitute for listening for God’s voice in Scripture. Now to be sure, Scripture is an acquired taste. You’ll have times you get in there, read, and nothing, but if you keep at it, and it comes into focus, and in time you acquire the taste and will discover God’s voice speaking into your soul through these writings that have been around for thousands of years.

Some plans can be found at, we’ve put links to suggest Scripture reading plans.

Without a plan, you just kind of wander around Scripture, and my experience is that if you wander around Scripture, you eventually wander away from Scripture.

Three, get a plan for how you will engage others on your journey to be unchained.

We talk about this a lot, but let me connect the dots for 12 steps here. If you’re serious about getting after these steps, then my encouragement would be that you vocalize that with your Life Group or Running partner, and ask them or ask 1 or 2 of them, for support in your journey. These are the people who can help you answer the following questions:

  • Who can you process with regularly?
  • Who can you get guidance from?
  • Who will give you the needed encouragement to keep going and push through resistance?

I finally kicked my caffeine habit when I went public with two guys who walk closely with me.

This plan, taught by Scripture and outlined in the 12 steps, it’s a good one. It’s not an easy plan. It takes courage, but you work this plan, and it works.”

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